Mock Orchestra Audition at Eastman – December 2008

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In December 2008, at the end of the fall semester, my first semester at the Eastman School of Music as a part time Associate Professor, I held a mock orchestra audition for the four graduate students with whom I had been working.   They had all expressed an interest in taking orchestra auditions.  A listing of the selected works is given below.


The audition times were scheduled on rather short notice – about 10 days – though many excerpts had been discussed over the semester.  In my mind, the main reason for the audition was not to make judgments, but rather to raise questions and suggest courses of action.  In my preparatory remarks to the students I emphasized that really knowing the music – not only your part – would provide an edge over most of the other auditionees who do not know the music.  I also said that really liking (loving?) the music would be even better.


It is certainly true that the focus of most auditions will be on simply playing the notes correctly, but really knowing the pieces should be a strong factor in helping to deal with surrounding issues – alternate print versions, playing with a conductor, tempi, dynamics, etc.


In these Eastman mock auditions the following arbitrary rules applied:

– A set of all instruments was provided, but it was highly recommended that they use their own instruments where possible.  For example, when the Petroushka excerpt (bass drum and cymbals – one player) is on an audition list, I advised bringing their own small cymbals with one mounted upside-down on their own cymbal post stand.  The alternative would be to try to deal with whatever cymbal mounting is provided, and there are a number of possibilities, any one of which could be quite unfamiliar and therefore a big problem.


– there was a strict 2-minute period allotted at the beginning of each audition for setting up instruments, sticks, etc.   I advised everyone to arrange their instruments outside in advance, and to have their selected sticks ready to set out on their own towels; there would be a music stand by each area for use as a stick tray.   If they planned to use their own cymbals, tamb. tri. etc.,  I advised that they have these ready to set out (ie. do not waste valuable time with opening and closing cases.)   I also advised that they select a convenient area – home central – for easy access to their stickbag, cases and anything else that might be needed.


– All sheet music was provided on each stand.  I advised that they be prepared to play any excerpt from the pieces on the list, not just the standard ones.  They would be instructed where to start and when to stop.  They would choose tempos and dynamics. There would be no recorded music, except possibly for the bass drum excerpts from LE SACRE du PRINTEMPS which might also be  conducted.


– I advised that this be considered as a real AUDITION; some of the things we had discussed earlier in lessons regarding performance practices AFTER YOU HAVE GOT THE GIG would not necessarily apply;  just play what Is on the page – play the notes; do not make rallentandos, ritards, or accellerandos that are not printed, even though such might be a norm in performances.


– I advised that If they really wanted to do it all the way, they should dress as they would for a real audition – to look professional.

gentlemen: wear a jacket – tie is optional but not required.

ladies: Flat shoes, Pants suit?  if jacket with skirt – below the knees, etc.

I also suggested that it would be a good idea to practice in the clothes they planned to wear.


– 2-minutes were allotted for packup and exit.  The advice was basically: PLAN AHEAD!   BE EFFICIENT!



After the auditions were completed, I asked each of the four to email their thoughts on their experience to me, and then I would respond to each individually with my assessment.


Here are some of the responses after the audition…


Student:  [My] preparation needs to be more meaningful – I knew some mistakes would happen that never happened before, but I was really surprised by the amount of missed notes.  This could have been solved by playing for people who were following along with the score or recording myself and listening back with a score.


Cahn: I would only re-emphasize that really knowing the music – not only your part – will give you an edge.


Student:  [I need to} obtain as many printed versions/editions of the parts as possible – sometimes I was thrown off by looking at a version of the excerpt with which I was unfamiliar.  This was definitely true when reading off the score for the Borodin tambourine excerpt, and Porgy and Bess…[I] didn’t even know about the other part of the excerpt.


Student: Be prepared for anything – although I have heard of it happening, I haven’t actually experienced playing along with a conductor or being asked to count aloud at an audition.  Things like these need to be incorporated into my practice regime.


Cahn –  Regarding your comment – quote: be prepared for anything! – It is possible that there would be no stick trays, so assess this as soon as you enter the audition space.  Be prepared by having all of the needed sticks and beaters (and tambourine/ triangle/ cymbal) rapidly accessible in a single bag/case, which you can carry with you from station to station, if necessary.


Student: I need a deeper understanding of the pieces – it took me longer than I was expecting to find my place in some of the excerpts (Borodin, Capriccio Italien, etc.). Not surprisingly, these were the excerpts with which I was the least familiar.


Cahn: Really knowing the music – not only your part – will give you an edge.


Student:  Cramming doesn’t work – instead of only passingly practicing excerpts until its time to start preparing for an audtion, I need to be doing a little bit everyday.  Because of time constraints, I can’t work on a giant list, but maybe have one excerpt per week per instrument area that I’ll focus on and rotate them in and out throughout year.


Student:  I may use my own parts for next time.


Cahn:  I would advise against using your own parts, because it would only add another concern (dealing with getting your pages out and on the right stand) in the limited time available.  If you know the music, you will not need written hints and tempos.


Student:  I have always wanted to start a listening regiment to get more familiar with the rep.


Cahn:  The extent to which you begin immediately and stay with it would be the best indicator (to me, anyway) of how serious you are about taking orchestra auditions.


A few final points about auditions:

a) If you make a mistake, do not stop; continue on and keep a straight face.

b) Say as little as possible in an audition – saying nothing is best – but If necessary, only a brief ‘where should I begin’ (if there was no instruction) or ‘please repeat that’ (if the instruction was not heard).

c) Be positive.  Do not become discouraged.  Be persistent.





Colas Breugnon  (Kabalevsky)

Porgy and Bess  (Gershwin)

Symphony #5  (Shostakovitch)

Polka from The Golden Age  (Shostakovitch)


Sorcerer’s Apprentice  (Dukas)

Pines of Rome  (Respighi)

Hary Janos  (Kodaly)

Russian Easter Overture  (Rimsky-Korsakov)


Capriccio Italien  (Tchaikovsky)

Scheherezade  (Rimsky-Korsakov)

Polovetsian Dances  (Borodin)

Four Sea Interludes  (Britten)


Symphony # 4  (Brahms)

Nutcracker  – Overture Miniature  (Tchaikovsky)

Scheherezade  (Rimsky-Korsakov)

Nutcracker – Waltz of the Flowers  (Tchaikovsky)


Lt. Kije Suite  (Prokofiev)

Pique Dame Overture  (von Suppe)

Scheherezade  (Rimsky-Korsakov)

Capriccio Espagnol  (Rimsky-Korsakov)


Le Sacre du Printemps  (Stravinsky)


Petrouchka  (Stravinsky)


Romeo and Juliet  (Tchaikovsky)

Piano Concerto No. 2  (Rachmaninoff)

Capriccio Italien  (Tchaikovsky)

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